Instructional Materials for Craig White's Literature Courses
URL for this page:

Horatian Satire

Introduction to


presentation to Galena Park Seniors
11 February 2012

Juvenalian Satire


What college is like and for.

College students' perceptions from popular media and culture: sports, parties, courtship

What art or media can't show: working, studying, learning, writing

What you'll learn:

  • how to act when you're neither the smartest nor the dumbest person in a room full of smart people

  • deferred gratification

College professors: when smart people love something besides money, celebrities, and vacations


Questions or comments on college experience?

Welcome to ask or inquire--professors are eccentric, headstrong, flakey but usually welcome fair effort--makes them less lonely, gives them a sense of who they're working with.


Courses / lectures serve different purposes for different students

For students interested in literature and history:

  • initiation to well-established texts, periods, and terms of literature + some standard theory.

For students interested in other fields but resigned to dealing with people like me:

  • Some standard theory about how art and literature operate in society.

  • Even if you never again think of our literary examples, you'll see plenty of satire all your life and have some idea of how it works.


Three big ideas about Literature

Art as imitation / representation of reality (life, nature)

Purpose of art: to entertain and instruct (Satire criticizes and instructs with a smile)


genres (types of literature)

periods (a.k.a. movements)

figures of speech


genre of satire during the period of the Enlightenment (1700s) using irony as figure of speech

satire: (synonyms: parody, burlesque, spoof, travesty)

The Enlightenment a.k.a. Age of Reason / Neo-Classical Era (think Founding Fathers of USA--$1, $10, $100)

figure of speech for Enlightenment and Satire: irony: reversal, inversion, subversion, distortion


Pause to consider The Enlightenment --

the period no one wants to study but is the key to most of our society.

Our styles and tastes have changed since The Enlightenment (our styles and tastes now are mostly post-Romantic), but why does the Enlightenment still matter?






Examples of satire in contemporary popular culture

  • The Simpsons

  • King of the Hill (+ other Mike Judge productions: Office Space, Idiocracy, Beavis & Butt-head)

  • Saturday Night Live > Tim Tebow skit w/ Jesus in locker room

  • South Park

  • The Onion > Parents Petition to End Life of Brain-Dead Teen Daughter

  • Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report satirizes The O'Reilly Factor

  • Scary Movie series spoofs Scream, I Saw What you Did Last Summer, Blair Witch Project, etc.

  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1974 > Spamelot on Broadway 2005--both spoof Arthurian legends, quest for the Holy Grail

Other examples of contemporary satire?

Which of these current examples is Juvenalian Satire? Which Horatian Satire?


Categories of satire (not rules but ways of describing)

  • Horatian satire (< Horace, Roman poet and essayist): gentle, fond of its subjects

  • Juvenalian satire (< Juvenal, Roman satirist): harsh, bitter, angry at its subjects

Example of Juvenalian satire: Stephen Colbert to journalists at 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner w/ President Bush:

“Over the last five years you people were so good,” he said. “Over tax cuts, W.M.D. intelligence, the effect of global warming: we Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try and find out.”

(compare light humor, dark humor)



Benjamin Franklin, “On the Savages of North America”

Question for discussion:

?I teach this text as an example of Enlightenment irony, but is there a way to explicate it as satire? (Not looking for an answer beyond the text: what in the text is being satirized?)

Purpose of art: to entertain and instruct

?How may this text give pleasure to the reader? What did you like?

?How may this text instruct the reader?

Times and audiences have changed, but even if you're already more sympathetic to Indians and less sympathetic to preachers, how does reading Franklin give you exercise in critical thinking?

Other reactions to Franklin?


Satire mixes with other styles and genres

What's funny? What purposes to laughter? How much satire do people like at a time?

how satire and the other terms work together or apart

comic theory

wit & humor


more examples from the Enlightenment

Jonathan Swift, selections from Gulliver’s Travels

Questions for discussion:

How does satire mix with other related genres or styles (e.g. low and high comedy, irony)

How does Gulliver's Travels morph from satire to fantasy and back? What do these two genres have in common? How may one help the other?

?How may this text give pleasure to the reader? What did you like?

?How may this text instruct the reader?

How has its audience changed?

Jonathan Swift, “A Modest Proposal”

Questions for discussion:

Given what we've said about satire, how would you describe "Modest Proposal" to someone as fulfilling the genre?

Is this satire Juvenalian or Horatian?

Examples of irony? satire?

How close does this satire verge on fantasy?

Middle-aged people who haven't read much of anything since college will sometimes tell me they remember reading Swift's "Modest Proposal," though they usually don't remember the title--only the subject matter. Why does cannibalism still have such a profound impact on our imaginations? What does its depiction prove about satire?


Satire in history:

irony as trope / figure of speech for Enlightenment and Satire

The irony of liberal government (democracy, transparency, capitalism, science & technology) founded during The Enlightenment (a.k.a. Age of Reason / Neo-Classical Era)

It's as good as we can do, but don't expect it to work perfectly: U.S. Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union . . . "

your fondest dreams will be disappointed, but the system may work better because of that.

Satire not revolution but reform, with laughter as correction

  • within limits, system works, get in line

  • standards are set: if you don't meet standards, expect to be laughed at


Concluding discussion questions:

  • What are Satire's purposes and strengths?

  • What are Satire's limits?


What are Satire's purposes and strengths?

Engages the public

Satire and comedy can raise or refer to topics that are otherwise off-limits

Satire not revolution but reform: within limits, system works, get in line

We have standards--just meet them


What are Satire's limits?

Topicality fades: Examples age rapidly + danger of using recent satire: will offend someone

perennial subjects of politics, religion, sex are always sensitive

Compare / contrast more popular genres like Romantic comedy & Action-Adventure movies


Satire ages quickly, but new examples keep happening.

Satire rose at the same time as our modern institutions, and like them it survives, even thrives.


Some other standard texts of Satire:

Rabelais, Gargantua et Pantagruel (early 1500s)

Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605, 1615)

Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock (1712)

Voltaire, Candide (1759)

other Enlightenment texts mentioned above

Washington Irving, from The History of New-York (1809): satire / caricature of Thomas Jefferson

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) & A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)

Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922) & Elmer Gantry (1927)

Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942)

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

Philip Roth, The Great American Novel (1973)


City U. of NY site on Comic Devices